James Ledger explains why he’s swapped lute for electric guitar in his exploration of four Shakespearean monarchs.

WorkHollow Kings
C omposerJames Ledger
Scored forSymphony orchestra
Commissioned byMelbourne Symphony Orchestra
PremiereJune 24, 2016
PerformersMelbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis


Written to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Hollow Kingsis a set of four pieces for orchestra commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony. Each movement is shaped around certain speeches from the plays that are either spoken by or about a king. I read and watched a lot of Shakespeare to choose the kings that would inspire the work, finally picking Macbeth, Henry VIII, Richard III and King Lear.

I originally chose a lot of text that got whittled down during the composition – it was a little bit like writing an opera without words. I have to say I was overwhelmed at Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to strip back the mask of royalty and reveal human frailty with such breathtaking language and metaphor. His skill in looking at these characters made them seem quite naked or transparent, but I thought the term ‘hollow’ seemed the best one to describe this.

The piece is...